"Priscilla" Film Review

Priscilla | Rotten Tomatoes

"Priscilla" Film Review

Rating: 4/5

By: Nathaniel Simpson

    Elvis Presley is easily one of the most influential and famous performers to ever live, and his name is synonymous with some of the biggest people in the world. He wooed the audience when he was performing and giving it his all, and was practically worshiped by young teenage girls. Baz Luhrmann's film about the famous pop-star, with Austin Butler in the titular role, was great at showing Elvis as a performer and rising up in popularity, but it left out major moments between Elvis and his wife Priscilla, who he met when she was 14 and he was 24. Therefore, Sofia Coppola, who has proved herself to be an accomplished director, tackles the novel written by Priscilla, exploring her relationship with the famous singer. While this movie does falter in the last 30 minutes, Coppola delivers a great film exploring several different themes under a beautifully haunting tone, with a fantastic performance from Cailee Spaeny as the titular protagonist. 

    Elvis (who is played by Jacob Elordi here) met Priscilla in Germany when they were both there during WW2, with Priscilla's father stationed there for the war. She was invited to the Presley party by another officer, and immediately becomes infatuated with Elvis. It is obvious the feeling is mutual, and they start spending all of their time together. When he has to leave Germany to go back home after the war, he starts inviting Priscilla to Graceland, before asking her to move in with him. They start their whirlwind romance, which was not only heavily criticized, but is incredibly toxic and abusive. Coppola is able to show the anger and fury of the iconic performer, and does so incredibly well through the eyes of Priscilla. 

    The best thing about this film is Spaeny's incredible performance, who adds so much to the character of Priscilla. It's amazing watching an actor like her take the role of a shy, naive, young, innocent girl and become a strong, powerful woman that we, as the audience, would have never expected if Priscilla wasn't a real person. Spaeny is great at playing this young version of Priscilla at the start of the film, and really just understands how to play such an innocent and lovable character. At the same time, when she progresses into the real Priscilla persona (one that Elvis forced upon her), she really changes right in front of our eyes, and it doesn't even seem like the same actress. 

    While Elordi does give a more relaxed and low-key performance as the iconic singer, a part of me wishes he tried a little more to embody the role of Elvis. Sure, we get to see glimpses of Elvis in him, but it doesn't hold up compared to Butler's performance a couple years prior. I get that Elordi didn't want the Elvis impersonation to really outshine the rest of the film, but this is based on source material about a real person. I think it is sort of odd he decided to play it so low-key. However, there are many parts I think Elordi did quite well, and I think when we get down to the last half of the movie, Elordi really shows his acting chops in terms of playing the antagonist in an abusive relationship.

    The aspect I was looking forward to the most concerning this project was how Coppola was going to present this movie. If you have seen any of Coppola's previous films, especially "The Virgin Suicides", you know her tone in cinema is very unique. It is very lively, bright, and can represent a more teenage girl aesthetic, even if the story as a whole is incredibly depressing. That is the case here. The first hour has the tone of a '60s film, from the music choices to how the film is shot. It feels like we entered into this wonderful era full of love and happiness. However, when we get into the last half of the movie, where Priscilla undergoes abuse and harm at the hands of her longtime partner, the entire film still feels so dreamy and pleasant? I love how she uses this choice because it tells us how it may have seemed so lovely and beautiful on the outside looking in, it definitely wasn't the case for this poor woman. 

    Coppola does a great job throughout telling this story and moving at a nice pace, until we get into the final half hour. It seems like Coppola kinda just ran out of steam, and is rushing to wrap up this movie. She goes through all of these different conspiracies and drama throughout the course of a couple years when Priscilla and Elvis separated before getting divorced, and it is all hinted at. Coppola doesn't bother to dive into it and inform the audience. It felt like we had to be huge fans of Elvis and Priscilla to understand what she is trying to say. Then, like how a few other Coppola films have done, it ends unexpectedly. It just stops going, and we're forced to accept that as a good, satisfying ending. While Priscilla does have a happy ending seemingly, I wish Coppola expanded it a little bit longer to say more of what she had to say about the story. 

    While Luhrmann's film does a fantastic job of showing Elvis as the performer, Coppola's film does a wonderful job of showing the darkness behind closed doors. It is obvious Coppola really wanted to tell this story with care and show the pain Priscilla went through and how bad it became. Even though there are some aspects of this film I would ultimately change, I think the film as a whole is beautifully made and really explores themes of abuse and gaslighting. I honestly think this role is going to make Spaeny a star, and I hope to see her in more starring roles in the future.